Lighting is a critical component of every small business. Employees must be able to see to perform their jobs, and objects and spaces must be aesthetically pleasing to encourage sales.

Depending on the type of business you operate, lighting accounts for 20% to 50% of electricity consumption. This means that significant cost savings can be achieved with energy-efficiency improvements, and due to continually improving equipment, lighting usually provides the highest return-on-investment of major upgrades.

The Formula for Lighting Energy Efficiency

Technology + Effective Design = Performance and Energy Savings

Lighting Technology

Make the decision early in your project to select energy-efficient lighting technology. The following pages discuss lighting technologies, their efficiency, and what might be right for your facility.

Lighting Design

High-quality lighting design includes the coordinated selection of lighting, fixtures, fixture placement, room finishes (e.g., high-reflectivity paint) to result in improved lighting quality. To achieve the best quality and efficiency from any new lighting system you install, consult a lighting professional with experience in energy efficiency


Incandescent Lighting Technology

Thomas Edison invented the first commercialized electric lighting technology in 1879, the incandescent lamp. This simple, yet inefficient, technology has dominated lighting applications ever since. Incandescent lamps come in two common type varieties:

  • Standard Incandescent Lamps: Inefficient lamps used in many applications throughout a facility.

  • Halogen Lamps: Halogen Lamps are a more advanced incandescent lamp technology commonly used to highlight merchandise and architectural features due to their white light and "sparkle".

Where can you find incandescent lamps in your facility?

  • Recessed "can" fixtures

  • Wall sconces

  • Suspended fixtures

  • Lamps and task lighting

  • Accent lighting and "track" lighting

  • Illuminated exit signs

  • Exterior lighting


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Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

CFLs are fluorescent lamps that have been specifically made in a compact form to replace incandescent lamps in traditional screw-in fixtures. These energy-efficient lamps come in a variety of styles and sizes and are suitable for a variety of applications. ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs use 75% less energy than a standard incandescent bulb and last up to 10 times longer. Replacing a 100-watt incandescent with a 32-watt CFL can save approximately $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.

The long life of CFLs makes them ideal to use in hard-to-reach places due to their reduced need to be replaced as often. In addition, CFLs are cool to the touch, making them safer than incandescent and halogen lamps. To learn more about CFLs visit: 


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Improved Halogen Systems

Many incandescent lamps can be replaced with halogen lamps for a gain in efficiency and service life. Many standard halogens (aside from some specialty applications) can be replaced with high performance "Infrared" (IR) halogen lamps. These lamps work by increasing the operating temperature of the halogen lamp, increasing efficiency. Though more efficient than other incandescent and halogen lamps, these lamps are still inferior in efficiency to fluorescent and HID lighting systems.


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Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lighting is the "standard" technology for lighting spaces such as offices and classrooms, and is up to four times more efficient than the incandescent lamp. However, older, obsolete fluorescent lighting systems can result in poor light quality and flicker. Advancements in fluorescent lighting systems have resulted in the introduction of new systems that provide improved energy efficiency, lighting quality, and design flexibility.

The primary components of standard fluorescent lighting systems are the ballast, which modifies incoming voltage and controls electrical current, and the lamp (bulb or tube), the source of artificial light.

Traditional Systems:

  • T12 Fluorescent Lamps: One of the most common, but least efficient fluorescent systems. T12 lamps can be identified by their 1.5-inch diameter.

  • Magnetic Ballasts: Magnetic ballasts are common and still used extensively today due to their low initial cost. However, these ballasts are considerably less efficient than new electronic ballast designs and are prone to flicker and humming (particularly as they age).

Standard fluorescent lamps are commonly used in a variety of places in a facility. Some common applications include:

  • Suspended and recessed "troffer" fixtures

  • Recessed "can" fixtures

  • Wall sconces

  • Suspended fixtures

  • Lamps and task lighting

  • Accent lighting and "track" lighting

  • Illuminated exit signs

  • Exterior and facade

What energy-efficient technologies can replace T12 fluorescent lighting system?

Energy-Efficient Fluorescent Lighting Systems: These systems, using T8 (1" in diameter) and T5 (5/8" in diameter) lamps, offer improved efficiency, higher intensity, and potentially longer life due to reduced degradation in light output over time. T8 and T5 lighting systems are constantly increasing in flexibility and are now applicable to a variety of task and accent lighting applications, as well as general lighting of larger spaces. To learn more about T8 and T5 lamps visit:

Energy-Efficient Electronic Ballasts: When specifying a fluorescent lighting system, always specify electronic ballasts. These ballasts provide near flicker-free operation while using up to 30% less energy than magnetic ballasts.

To learn more about electronic ballasts visit:

Project Suggestion

You may be able to "de-lamp" or remove some of the lamps in your system and still have acceptable light levels, especially in concert with a T8 retrofit. Consult your lighting professional to see if this is an option for your facility.


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High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Lighting Systems

Due to their intensity, HID lighting systems are useful for lighting large areas from high ceilings, and range from 50 to 2,000 watts each. Older HID installations are often mercury vapor lamps, an extremely inefficient design. Like fluorescent lamps, HID systems have ballasts, and systems built before 1978 may contain potentially harmful substances such as PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls).

HID lamps are commonly used in the following applications:

  • Garages

  • Warehouses

  • Areas with high ceilings

  • Exterior safety and security lighting

  • Accent lighting

What HID technologies are most efficient for my facility?

For high-ceiling and exterior applications, specify metal halide or high-pressure sodium vapor lamps. In areas you wish to highlight, or accent particular merchandise, use small metal halide spotlights. To learn about HID lighting systems:

In some cases, you may be able to reduce the wattage of your already installed HID lamps by purchasing and installing specially designed reduced wattage metal halide lamps. For example, a special 360-watt metal halide can replace a 400-watt metal halide. Consult your lighting professional for more information.

Project Suggestion

Consult your lighting professional about specifying more energy efficient T5 lighting systems instead of HID lighting systems.

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Exit Signs

Exit signs are an excellent, low-cost, low-labor opportunity to increase the energy efficiency and safety of your facility. Replacing incandescent exit signs that operate at about 40 watts per sign, or fluorescent exit signs that operate between 12 and 20 watts per sign, with an ENERGY STAR qualified exit sign can increase the energy efficiency of your exit signs by 3 to 8 times!

Many ENERGY STAR qualified exit signs are based on light-emitting diode (LED) technology, while others are based on photoluminescent and electroluminescent technology. You may also be able to retrofit your exit sign with LED technology while retaining the housing. To learn more about ENERGY STAR qualified and other energy-efficient exit sign technologies please visit:


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Specifying an energy-efficient lighting technology, such as T8 or T5 fluorescent lamps and electronic ballasts, is a critical step to improving the energy efficiency of your facility and saving money. However, lighting is a system and depends on the quality of the fixture (the apparatus that contain the lamp), combined with the lamp, ballast and placement (the position of fixtures in a room, which affects the amount of usable light that is supplied).

Fixtures come in a wide variety of applications. Fixture selection may be guided by:

  • Efficient technology

  • Ceiling height

  • Spacing

  • Amount of glare

  •  Distribution of light

  • Task plane height

  • Desired light level

  • Appearance

For the best energy efficiency and light quality consult a lighting professional or designer when selecting fixtures. To learn more about lighting fixtures and their impact on efficiency visit ENERGY STAR Qualified Lighting.


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Lighting Controls

Controls are a key part of any lighting system. Specify controls that maximize the flexibility of your system while eliminating light usage, often automatically. Common controls include:

  • Bi-level Switching: Control of a lighting system in groups of fixtures or lamps, for example bi-level switching allows you to turn-half of the lights in a room off when full illumination is not required. Bi-level switching is commonly used in offices, conference rooms, and classrooms. 

  • Dimmers: Dimming lighting systems allow you to control the amount of light and save energy. Dimmers are available for fluorescent and incandescent systems. Daylight dimmers are special sensors that automatically dim room lights based on the amount of free and natural daylight available. Dimmers are commonly used in conference rooms, classrooms, restaurants, and libraries.

  • Occupancy Sensors: These sensors detect the motion of room occupants, turning off lights in unoccupied areas and turning them back on when movement is detected. Occupancy sensors are commonly used in restrooms, classrooms, and warehouses.

  • Daylight Sensor (Photocells): A common inefficiency of exterior lighting systems is a tendency to "dayburn." This is when lights are on during the day, wasting energy and money. This problem can be prevented by installing light-sensitive controls that turn the lights on and off automatically based on daylight, thus producing convenient energy savings. Timers can be used, but do not react to changing daylight conditions.

To learn more about lighting controls systems visit:


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Save money by harvesting the free light of the sun! Daylight can be harvested by simply not blocking windows, and by dimming/turning off the lights based on available daylight throughout your facility. Common daylighting strategies include:

  • Controlling window light through blinds

  • Sky lights and "sun tubes"

  • Light shelves

  • Daylight dimming systems

To learn more about daylighting visit:


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Future Lighting System Technologies

LED Lighting

In the last 20 years, light-emitting diode (LED) lamps have advanced from being indicators on consumer electronics, to an increasingly versatile and efficient lighting source. LED lighting has the potential to provide high efficiency, durability, and extremely long life. Currently, LED lighting is largely restricted to specialty uses such as accent lighting, LCD monitor backlighting, exit signs as well as use in traffic signals, vehicle brake lights, and strings of colored holiday lights. However, as the technology becomes more accepted in the market, its uses will expand and costs will become more competitive. A specific kind of LED, the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) promises to make energy efficient and designable light panels that can be used in a wide variety of architectural applications. To learn more about LED technology please visit:

Induction or Electrodeless Fluorescent Lamps

An induction lamp is a fluorescent lamp design that eliminates the most failure prone component of the system, the electrode, and produces light by exciting the lamp's gas fill with radio frequencies. The result is improved efficiency over conventional fluorescent designs and extremely long life (upwards of 50,000 hours). Several induction designs are already on the market, but these lamps are best used for applications where extremely long lamp life is desired due to maintenance issues. To learn more about induction lamps visit GE's Consumer and Industrial Lighting Induction Lamps.


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Efficient Lighting Technology Selection Design Guide

Many simple upgrades can be made with reasonable results to existing systems and standard specifications. Examples of these include:

  • Substituting T8 fluorescent lamps and electronic ballasts for T12 lamps and magnetic ballasts.

  • Replacing incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent lamps.

  • Installing fluorescent lighting systems in place of incandescent lighting systems.

  • Installing metal halide or high-pressure sodium vapor lamps in place of mercury vapor lamps.

To learn more about lighting design visit:

Project Suggestion

  • When selecting a lighting consultant/designer consider selecting one who is certified "LC" by the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions or "CLC" by the American Lighting Association.

  • For new construction and major retrofits consider having computer models of your lighting system developed by a qualified professional to ensure that the design meets the criteria for your facility.


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Additional Lighting Links and Information


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Produced in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Business Gateway and ENERGY STAR®